Annually, thousands of indigenous peoples (IPs) converge in Manila to assert their right to self-determination and access to basic government services. The protest has been dubbed as Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya. Among those who join are the Lumad, the largest indigenous population in the Philippines.

Because education was inaccessible to them, they established their own schools in 1980s through the help of civil society groups. Many of these provide alternative learning systems rooted within the community‟s culture, but have been accused of sustaining close ties with the New People‟s Army (NPA).

They have claimed that some of these schools are being attacked by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). In his State of the Nation Address in 2017, President Duterte also declared that he will order the bombing of these schools. A day after, the Palace clarified that Duterte will not harm Lumad children as the government goes after the communist rebels, who, according to AFP, infiltrated the IPs.

Alleged NPA recruitment

The AFP uncovered “Taktikang Bakwit,” supposedly a campaign by left-leaning groups and the NPA to cause disorder in IP communities and to blame the government‟s legitimate peace and security operations.

“Two-fold ang gusto nilang mangyari doon. One, mawalan ng tao doon sa lugar. Pag nawalan ng tao, walang makakausap ang sundalo. Paano ngayon mae-explain na ang ginagawa ng NPA ay mali, „di ba? Pangalawa, drain the resources of the government. Kapag nagkaroon ng mga evacuees, anong gagawin ng gobyerno? Magbibigay ng pagkain, ng matutuluyan,” Lt. Col. Emmanuel Garcia, operations officer of AFP Civil Relations Service said.

This was validated by an affidavit from Lumad leaders of Talaingod, Davao Del Norte. “Ang pinaka-issue ng tribu, „yung pag-take over ng NPA sa mga ancestral domain. Sila na ang nagpapatakbo sa mga community at pag ayaw mong sumunod, papatayin ka,” Datu Nestor Apasa, a Lumad leader, said in an interview.

The NPA also use Lumad schools for indoctrinating and recruiting new members, the AFP said.

Years ago, Asenad Bago, a former grade four pupil from Salugpongan Community Learning Center in Davao del Norte came forward to AFP to allege that in his school, he and his classmates were being taught to sing a distorted version of Lupang Hinirang. “Tinuturuan kami ng mga kantang pangrebolusyon. Kakantahin ko ang „Lupang Hinirang‟ ng kilusan…lupang sinira, bayan ng magigiting…may tilamsik ng dugo ang awit sa paglayang minamahal, ang pula ng watawat mo‟y tagumpay na nagniningning.”

Communications Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Banaag said in a press briefing that “there are three main groups of left-oriented IP schools” according to Department of Education (DepEd). These are Salugpongan; Center for Lumad and Advocacy and Services (CLANS); and Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development. (Alcadev). These schools have various branches in Mindanao.

But DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones, in an interview last year, said her office has no direct information about the curriculum of these schools “because they are not registered.”

Registered or not?

The Save Our Schools (SOS) Network, a non-government organization addressing attacks on Lumad, says otherwise. As he provided copies of government permits, SOS Mindanao Spokesperson Rius Valle said that Lumad schools in Mindanao operate legally, including those that are tagged by government as “left-oriented IP schools.”

The Indigenous Peoples Education Office (IPsEO) clarified that these are just temporary permits. For example, as stated in the documents, some branches of CLANS are only permitted to operate for 90 days since they have yet to submit all their requirements to DepEd Region 12.

According to DepEd, 83 out of 122 private schools serving IP learners are permitted to operate while 39 are classified as “recognized,” as of August 2017. Out of 55 branches of Salugpongan in the list, their branch in Davao del Norte has no permit. The Alcadev and CLANS were not identified in the list as either permitted or recognized.

Valle added that he, together with some Mindanaoan parents and their children, went to DepEd to prove that they have documents to operate. According to Valle, Briones has not been entertaining their request for a meeting.

However, DepEd said they are “relentless in its consultation and coordination with IP schools to enable them to properly comply with the requirements.” In 2017, DepEd facilitated a meeting with CLANS about their permit application.

‘Blatant lies’

Contrary to the claims of the AFP, Valle said that Lumad schools do not recruit NPA members. This is only a tactic of the Armed Forces to legitimize the military presence in the areas, he said.

He also warned AFP of the danger of “red-tagging” Lumad children. “The moment na sinasabi nila „yan, hinahayaan nila na malagay sa alanganin „yung buhay ng mga kabataan.”

Lt. Col. Garcia denied these accusations, saying that it is the NPA‟s scheme to turn tables and destroy the image of the AFP. He said that there‟s no reason for them to militarize Lumad communities because there is no war in the area. He asserted that their presence in the area has always been a response to NPA threats.

“Bakit ang NPA hindi nila pinagbabawalan? That is also militarization! Kaya itong mga community, nung pumasok ang NPA, wala silang reklamo. Nung nagresbak na ang NPA at nakikialam sila sa relief [operations ng gobyerno], nagsumbong na ang mga Lumad sa sundalo. Pumunta na yung mga sundalo, mga AFP,” he said.

Forced shut down?

Valle also claimed that the AFP forcibly shut down Lumad schools because they do not want IPs to become literate and to adapt sustainable knowledge in organic farming. Consequently, he claimed, that the government will profit from ancestral domains by allowing the exploitation of international mining and plantation companies.

Lt. Col. Garcia said that the AFP has no jurisdiction to shut down schools. “Wala namang kapangyarihang magpasara ang Armed Forces ng schools; it is DepEd. Bakit pinasara? May violation sila. Kung gusto nilang ma-accredit, gawin nila yung tama at tsaka yung curriculum, dapat sumunod sa DepEd,” Garcia said.

Lourie Victor, head of IPsEO, rejected to answer why some Lumad schools were shut down. She said she is not the proper authority to respond to the query.

According to the data from SOS, during the first year of Duterte‟s administration, 27 Lumad schools were forcibly shut down while 87 schools were attacked by the AFP, most of which are CLANS in Region 12.

DepEd said there were no reports from local government units to support these claims, but they reiterated that they condemn any form of violence committed against children.

“We are against any military activity. Actually hindi ko nga alam kung military is a correct term kasi hindi lang naman about guns. Kahit nga even stick, basta anything that will disrupt the classes or any learning activity, is a violation to the rights of the learners,” Victor said.

The Department is also tasked to report incidences of child rights violations and ensure the protection of children in armed conflict, as stated in DepEd Order 57.

The SOS claimed that they have submitted reports on child rights violations on children.

Human rights violations

The AFP challenged accusers to name the schools which were allegedly “militarized” and dared them to file cases in court.

Karapatan, a human rights group, asked the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of IPs to look into recent alleged state-perpetrated violence against Lumad, particularly the “massacre” of eight farmers tagged as communist insurgents in South Cotabato, and a “food blockade” of relief aid for evacuees fleeing military operations in Surigao del Sur.

In a letter to Victoria Tauli-Corpuz last year, Karapatan called for an “independent investigation.” Karapatan is affiliated with Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, an umbrella group of national democratic activist organizations.

Lt. Col. Garcia criticized the intents and motives of Karapatan, saying that the group must act accordingly for the rights of all Filipinos.

“If they really pursue human rights of everyone and not a particular group or individual, pati yung mga violation ng NPA ay singilin din nila.”

Because of the clash of claims and counter-claims between the military and the leftist groups — the plight of the Lumad remains unresolved. If these opposing parties will continue to put the blame on each other, the Lumad will endure their unaddressed needs, including their right to accessible education and peaceful communities. —with reports from Halee Andrea B. Alcaraz, Jazzmyn Yza Jenovib L. Gestopa, Kimberly Kathreen Khaye P. Dave, Kristela Danielle S. Boo, Maryluz Jamella A. Blancaflor, Reuszchelle P. Fernandez


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